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Battle Against Waste

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Tags: ZeroEmissions, Efficiency, RenewableEnergy

With the completion of a small, but extremely effective project, employees in the Indian city of Chennai have guaranteed a sustained water supply for their plant. This is just one example of how a resource-saving business approach can also be successful on a small scale.
Christine Kordt, April 30, 2019
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Christine Kordt All aspects of mobility have been at the heart of this journalist from Cologne for over 20 years. Outside of work, her favorite way to explore the landscape around her is on foot.
When one of the two internal plant wells dried up, teams at Somic ZF Components in Chennai emerged victorious from a race against time. They had already taken precautions at their East Indian location and secured the water supply by rebuilding the process chain. Somic ZF Components, a joint venture between ZF and the Japanese company Somic Ishikawa, produces chassis components such as compession ball joints, control arms, and tie rods here with almost 400 employees. Like many other companies in the region, Somic ZF Components also covers its water demand with ground water. The economy is booming, the population is growing, but the groundwater level is dropping.

Not waiting for others – taking out own action

Not waiting for others – taking out own action

However, instead of waiting for a grand state solution, managers at the Chennai plant decided to take action themselves, one of which was Murali V., manager for maintenance and services. The main objective was to use water more intelligently than before in order to reduce consumption. Für Murali V., this was the only reasonable approach because
“it was particularly dramatic for us in the summer. There is nothing we can change to the existing groundwater, only in how we use it.” This realization was the starting point for the launch of an unusual action “Maintaining the groundwater” at the beginning of 2018.
Up to that point, the plant conveyed its process water from bores and stored it in a tank. Some of this water was used for washing hands and flushing the toilet. Afterwards it was routed directly into the wastewater treatment plant. The internal plant reverse osmosis facility treated another portion of the groundwater stored in the tank as drinking water. In the reverse osmosis facility, a diaphragm allows only water molecules to pass through while holding back solutes. This process produces wastewater that flows directly into the wastewater treatment plant. Every day the plant consumed roughly 37 cubic meters of water and 80 kilowatt hours of power for treatment and the wastewater treatment plant.

Sustained water extraction

Sustained water extraction

In January 2018, Chennai employees in fact decided to implement the sustainability requirement anchored in the ZF Group. In only three and a half months, a team consisting of members from Service, Electrical Engineering, Mechanics, HR and Change Management developed a comparably simple, but well-thought solution. The project team geared this solution with the different requirements from the departments regarding the necessary water quantities and then commissioned suppliers. From mid-March to mid-April, the employees from Somic-ZF-Components integrated their ideas with the existing treatment plant and subsequently operated it using an improved process. Project manager Murali V. is satisfied: “It all went smoothly and we are happy that we could build everything as we saw fit.”
What did the project team change? Today, the required groundwater is treated completely by reverse osmosis. This process continues to produce drinking water and wastewater. However, this wastewater is now temporarily stored in a tank; it is used for hand washing and toilet flushing, Only then does it arrive to the treatment plant. Instead of introducing the water into the river after the treatment process, for example, or allowing it to seep into the ground, it is now used to water a few trees that the project team planted as a small alley. The trees provide shade and give employees a sense of well-being.

Water consumption, CO₂ emissions and costs declined considerably

Water consumption, CO₂ emissions and costs declined considerably

In summary, eight months after the changeover, groundwater consumption in the plant has dropped 46 percent to 20 cubic meters daily, which also noticeably relieved the treatment plant. The water volume treated in the plant fell 40 percent from 25 cubic meters to 15 cubic meters. Another advantage is the energy savings and the associated reduction in CO₂ emissions dropped by approximately 30 percent because less power is consumed for operating the bore pumps and the treatment plant. As a result, the energy costs also fell, which was a welcome side effect. “For us, water is not only a cost factor, it is a valuable commodity that is becoming increasingly scarce. By carefully conserving water, we are helping two groups of users: The people in the region that also rely on groundwater and us employees because it constantly improves hygienic conditions. We are proud of this,” says Murali V.
Water treatment plant in the Chennai plant

46 percent
The Indian plant in Chennai consumes 46 percent less groundwater than before due to its well-thought-out water management.

Project has already found its first imitations

Project has already found its first imitations

The successful reorganization of the water supply in Chennai has, in the meantime, served as a blueprint for the second location of Somic ZF Components in Gurugram, a large city located roughly 30 kilometers from New Delhi. At the Chennai plant, the employees are not satisfied with what they have achieved. They are therefore working on lowering energy consumption by another 15 percent. They then want to focus on waste. “We consider all materials as resources – for us there is no such thing as waste,” that is the mentality of Murali V. and his colleagues.

Background information on the water situation in Chennai.

Background information on the water situation in Chennai.

„Chennai in a Water Crisis “ was the title of an article published in the Indian daily magazine “The Hindu” in December 2018. For three years in a row, the metropolis located on the Bay of Bengal and inhabited by 10 million people has been suffering from a water shortage – among others because the monsoon season has not been sufficient enough to refill the groundwater and above-ground water reservoirs. This is one problem that all of India is affected by. According to the figures from the Chennai city hall, the city needs 800 million liters of water daily but cannot cover this demand. To cover the daily supply gap, 4,000 private tank trucks are used. In rural regions, they fill their tanks with groundwater at low prices and sell their load in cities such as Chennai at a high price, which is what the Thomson Reuters Foundation says regarding the experts. The water trucks thus now make the problem of a falling groundwater level sharper where it is actually not really so pressing.